Now this is the way to welcome Fall – by celebrating with our community at Orcasong.
So honored to receive the invite and have a chance to check out this new and exciting farm I’ve been watching for many months. I live just around the corner and have been watching the transformation, the newest being the lavender fields.
You can feel the energy coming from the farmers tending the land. Fencing was erected, the ground was tilled, materials and farm hands showed up and then the planting. What could it be? Lavender … and the promise of color and sweet fragrance to come!
But lavender is not all this farm is producing.
Orcasong’s mission is to restore the land they steward on Orcas Island using ecologically regenerative practices. Guided by the wisdom of nature, they are committed to local resilience and social change and to advance through holistic education, arts and event programming, environmental advocacy and interwoven farm-based enterprises.
You can feel the mission statement when you arrive. On this day, farmers were working in the gardens and offer big smiles encouraging me to come help harvest fresh vegetables, wander and dream in the flower-filled overgrown garden laid out with purpose and standing proud in the soil. I love the mix, feeding the soul and the body.
Walking around the grounds, you can see the love and intention given to every detail. These farmers really walk the talk, collaborating with a team that searches for solutions to keep them connected to the land, the people and this community.
Standing among them, I can’t help but feel how life can keep us spinning in our own worlds, keeping us from slowing down and taking in the gifts right in front of us.
Food, friends, song, sharing, dreaming – it just doesn’t get any closer to “island life” than this experience.
This Saturday from 10-6, Mount Baker Farm will be hosting a Fall Festival! You won’t want to miss this. Come check out the farm, ride the train, play some games, eat some great local foods, participate in arts and crafts, and pet the farm animals! The weather is looking like it will be a perfect fall day to enjoy outdoors. Kids! Bring canned goods to donate to the food bank and receive 5 tickets to play games!
I’ll be there with a booth for my class at the public school called Farm to Classroom. We will be making bird feeders and leaf rubbings. I’ll be sharing the booth with Chef Zach, also of the public school, who will be selling cups of yummy soup to raise funds for our Farm to Cafeteria program which purchases local products for our school lunches.
Mount Baker Farm was a private estate until it changed hands last spring. The new owners decided to open it to the public and created spectacular camp sites in the back forest. Ruth, Cheryl and Barbara have been working hard since they took ownership to create a spectacular island getaway and local gathering place for our community.
Last spring my students were invited to have train rides and tours of the farm. The excitement was palpable. You see, the children had all heard the train whistle over the years. They could see the track from the county road. The property was surrounded by a fence and large red gates. It was the great island mystery. Our very own Willy Wonka Factory, if you will. When we walked up to the gates for the first time and were greeted by Miss Cheryl on her green cart the kids went wild! Chasing after the cart. Running through the tall grass in the fields. Stopping to stand or lay across the real train tracks! You would have thought we were at Disneyland!
I also had the opportunity to camp during the Farm’s “soft opening”. I was joined by some great friends. A group of four families with young children, we took over the large group area of the camp grounds. We had a fantastic time riding the train, petting the animals, exploring the meadow and the several interesting buildings. Later the mommas walked the entire train track winding through the property. We stopped in the back meadow to play some old carnival games and laughed like teenagers! An evening campfire with s’mores and lots of laughter had us ready for bed. We crawled into our tents and cuddled up under soft white covered comforters and laid our heads on scrumptious sleeping mats- all provided and set up by the Farm. At Mount Baker Farm you can bring all of your own camping gear, or you can rent theirs and they will even set it up for you!
If you haven’t been out to see Orcas Island’s newest community gathering place you must come to see it this weekend. While you are there you can eat good food, play some games and support these local vendors:
Spring has sprung on Orcas Island and so have the dandelions! When I look out across the lush green spring grass and see it polka-dotted with the yellow flowers of the dandelion, I smile. Others see this scene and they shudder, and then make plans for attack.
The dandelion is a flower! However, with its rapid growth and invasive nature, some people are hesitant to admit this and instead call them weeds.
I can understand why gardeners want to keep dandelions from growing in their sacred plots. The root grows strong and deep which makes it particularly difficult to remove. The seeds have the most amazing system for disbursement and can actually travel up to five miles!
But did you know that every part of the dandelion is edible? Yes! It is true! The root can be chopped and roasted and made into a delicious, earthy tasting tea. The leaves can eaten fresh in salads or served sautéed. Dandelion pesto is another delicious way to enjoy this yummy plant. The yellow flowers can be used to brighten up your meal or battered and fried and served as fritters!
Dandelions are good for you too!
Dandelions are fun!
How many of you picked your mother a bouquet straight from the yard as a young child?
Do you remember holding a dandelion under a friend’s chin to determine if they loved butter or not?
Have you watched a child decorate their skin with the yellow pollen from a dandelion?
Ever make a dandelion chain to wear in your hair?
Did you ever just lay in the sunny yellow spotted grass watching the bees happily move from flower to flower?
Can you recall the hopefulness you felt wishing on a dandelion gone to seed?
When you really stop to think about it, you will see that the dandelion is our friend, not a foe. So the next time you see a grassy patch full of yellow spots of sunshine, remember all the children and bees and how happy those flowers make them. And if you happen to be hungry… go ahead a have a snack!
4 year old Mandy holding a bouquet of dandelions!
If you are looking to buy some land on Orcas Island where you can enjoy the simple pleasures of growing your own dandelions, give me a call. I’d be happy to show you some great dandelion patches.
The sun rises over Eastsound Village on a snowy February morning.
Indian Island in the distance.
The “Village Green” all covered in white.
Sunrise over a snow covered Eastsound.
Visitors to Orcas are always asking me if it ever snows here. The answer is, YES! Orcas snow is FUN snow! It doesn’t usually stick around very long, melting long before it loses it’s beauty.
What I love most about a snowy Orcas Island day is how it brings our small community even closer together. We all share in the wonder, the excitement, the worry, and usually the FUN of a snow day. An undeniable shared experience does wonders to make you feel connected to those around you.
Maybe my opinion is skewed. You see, teaching is my other other career. I’m sure everyone remembers the excitement of the announcement that school is closed for a snow day! I am one of the lucky ones that never has to go to work on a snow day. Maybe that explains why I love them so much.
Mandy have a sled race with son Johnny and friends.
Mandy and family enjoying the snow.
The snow started early Friday morning. A snow day is fun, but a snow day at school with all of your friends is really fun! Shortly after lunch the snow started falling in flakes that were bigger than a child’s hand. We had to stop our lesson in Farm to Classroom and rush to the window to watch.
The weekend brought more snow on Sunday night. This time there was enough snow for the Orcas Island Public School to call an official snow day! With more snow falling on Monday night the students received a second snow day on Tuesday. You could hear the cheers across the island.
Orcas Island Public School buses parked for the day, covered in a blanket of snow.
The snow covered school yard and empty parking lot.
My youngest son Johnny enjoyed the snow with his friends on Monday. Toddlers and snow make for a fun combination. We have had mild winters with no real memorable snow since these kiddos were born, this was their first real Orcas snow day experience.
Johnny excited to catch a snowflake!
Frankie says the forecast calls for snow as far as she can see!
Ryan is gleeful after pelting the photographer with a snow ball!
The big kids also know how to enjoy the snow. On Tuesday afternoon the sun was shining bright and the steep hills at Buck Park were calling. My son Jordan and his girlfriend Bethany had fun sledding the hills above the play fields where they will begin playing softball and baseball in just about a month!
My son Jordan and his girlfriend sledding at Buck Park.
Enough about my family. You are probably reading this to learn more about living on Orcas Island. Remember how I said the snow brings the community together with the shared experience? I loved seeing the pictures my fellow islanders were posting on social media during the snow days. I’ll share some of my favorites here.
Tom Tillman posted these pictures from his farm in Doe Bay. I think this driver may have been caught in the storm of ’87.
The snow gives us clues as to what the local wildlife is up too. These bird prints were left outside my sliding glass door. It was fun to follow them and imagine the path of the little birdie that left them.
Deborah Jones posted this picture of the Raccoon tracks with this comment. “Raccoons circling the henhouse busted by the snow.”
Tuesday morning brought this beautiful sunrise on the East side of the island. Teacher Anne Ford McGrath shared this picture along with every teacher’s favorite winter morning announcement, “Snow Day, No School!”
Islander Camille Fleming was commuting off the island for work on Tuesday. Thankfully the Washington State Ferries still run on snow days. Her husband posted this comment, “Second snow day in a row. School cancelled. Flights cancelled. Roads are questionable. Glad the ocean isn’t frozen.”
Southern transplant Liz Guerry posted this picture Tuesday morning with this comment, “Sun bathing in the PNW!
Tuesday afternoon, islander and fellow teacher Nancy Walstrom captured this stunning snow scene from her deck at Buoy Bay. That is Mount Baker in the distance.
Vicki Bartram, my mother, posted this interesting shot of the sun rising in Olga, causing the trees to cast shadows over the snow covered yard.
My partner in real estate, Beth Holmes, shared this photo of the sun setting on the west side of Orcas Tuesday night. These chairs demonstrate nicely the optimism of most islanders, winter is short so why put away the outdoor furniture!
So there is the answer to the frequently asked question. Yes, Orcas Island gets snow and it is a WONDERFUL experience to have!
Mandy is an Associate Broker at T Williams Realty. She enjoys living with her family and friends on Orcas Island, Washington.
The sixth annual Festival of Trees is happening this month at Rosario Resort. Visitors can come to see the uniquely decorated trees in the main lobby of the resort’s mansion. The trees are decorated by local non profit organizations with ornaments that portray what each organization embodies. There is a pet themed tree from the Animal Protection Society, and tree of smiling children’s faces from The FunHouse, and a wild animal themed tree from Wolf Hollow. And of course the garden of wonders tree created by students in my class to represent the Orcas Island Farm to Cafeteria program. Each tree is a beautiful representation of the great things the non-profits in our community do to contribute to making this a wonderful place to live.
Every year for 6 years now my students in Farm to Classroom at Orcas Island Elementary School have created beautiful handmade ornaments to decorate our tree. This year is no exception! Our ornaments represent many of the topics that we have studied so far this year.
A magnified image of a frozen molecule of water serves as the star of our tree.
It is tradition for the kindergarten students to string the popcorn. A lesson involving proper use of needles, using caution for tender fingers, and methods for perfecting the long untangled strand. Some children approach the situation with caution and others with wild abandon. Even though the popcorn is days old (easier to string without breaking) the children still enjoy eating as much as they string.
Our third grade students used a photo paper called cyanotype that uses the sunlight to expose images. The children choose items from our garden and placed them on the paper in the sun. After 10 minutes they rinsed the paper in water and set the images.
We have an interactive element to our tree this year. You can use one of the many magnifying glasses hanging on our tree to look into the tiny bottles filled with seeds hanging from the branches. You will find papers with glued on seeds clothespinned to the tree also. We have been busy saving seeds this fall and thought this would be a fun way to share some of our seed knowledge and excitement.
After studying apples this fall and learning that every apple has a star in it, we just had to include some dried apple slices with stars proudly displayed on our tree.
Please come admire our hard work and place a vote for our tree if you feel compelled. You can buy tickets for $1 each and place them in the voting boxes of the trees of your choice. All of the proceeds go directly to the non-profits and you will be entered for prizes from Rosario Resort and Spa and Kenmore Air. Rosario will be hosting a special Open House this weekend December 9-11 daily between 12pm and 8pm. You can enjoy the trees as well as complimentary cookies and hot apple cider.
If you can’t make it this weekend, the trees will be up through the New Year.